Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2008
Regional Report

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Tranquil, cool, and elegant, a redwood garden is like nowhere else on earth. (Photo courtesy of Suzie Rose-Jeltsch)

Gardening in the Redwoods

I have had many, many gardens over the years, and in every place I have lived I've planted and tended flowers. I love blooming plants, no matter if they are grown in the ground or in containers. I had window box gardens when I lived in an upstairs flat, sunny patio gardens full of multi-hued containers, and trellises of sweet peas climbing the wall where I only had a few inches of exposed soil between the fence and bare concrete. I even had a garden in the curb strip at a now defunct yacht club in south San Francisco where I grew giant pumpkins, pink cosmos, and tomatoes.

It's always sad to say goodbye to a garden when moving, but the hardest one to leave behind was in Mill Valley. The house was on a hillside and surrounded by redwood trees, and was shaded for most of the day. Ferns thrived there, as did azaleas and rhododendrons. In the spring, the long brick walk that led to the front entry was completely carpeted by clouds of fragrant freesias. There were thousands of them. I don't know who planted the bulbs, but they had naturalized and become part of the landscape.

There was a lovely princess flower (tibouchina) that bloomed throughout the summer and fall. A raised brick bed in the only sunny part of the garden was home to a magnificent dahlia with yellow flowers the size of dinner plates. I tried to take it with me when we left the Mill Valley house, but it never again achieved its mammoth proportions in the new location.

Gardening in the Grove
Gardening in a redwood forest presents its own set of problems and delights. Residents of Santa Cruz, Russian River, and parts of Marin know that the redwood compost makes growing anything other than acid-loving plants a challenge. The soil in these areas is mostly made up of roots, stone, and leaf litter from the redwood trees. Slugs the size of battleships forage for anything edible, including dog food. Once I stepped into my garden clogs on the back steps and squished a slug who had been hiding there. It took hours to remove the slime from my bare foot. I shudder even now with the memory.

A Beautiful Redwood Garden
The most beautiful redwood garden I have ever seen was in downtown Napa. A local nursery had planted a circle of 12 or 15 redwood trees and underneath their canopy lush rhododendrons and azaleas lived contentedly. Between the shrubs, hardy sword ferns added a touch of elegance. It was a simple design that worked because all the plants lived in harmony. There was a solitary bench tucked to the side where you could contemplate the beauty of the surroundings.

I'm glad someone took the time to plant that redwood grove, and I'm sure many were sorry to see it go. It was cut down and the property turned into condos in the 80s.

If you have the opportunity to have a garden amidst the redwoods, here is a list of my favorite shade-loving plants that will live in harmony with the majestic trees: anemone, astilbe, azalea, brunfelsia, Calceolaria herbeohybrida, campanula, cestrum, digitalis, forget-me-nots (myosotis), helleborus, hosta (if you can keep the slugs away), Japanese hydrangea, mimulus hybrids, Pieris forrestii, Pieris japonica, rhododendron, and tradescantia.

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